STRIKE action by dozens of teachers saw hundreds of pupils miss lessons at a South Tyneside school.
About 400 children were told to stay at home yesterday from St Joseph’s Catholic Academy in Mill Lane, Hebburn, as a result of industrial action by 45 NUT teaching staff.
The strike is believed to be the first to hit the school since it was opened, more than 50 years ago.
Teachers are angry at plans for job losses and increased working hours proposed in a budget review at the borough’s newest academy.
A 30-strong picket gathered outside the school before the start of lessons yesterday, with striking staff claiming strong support for their action against redundancies and longer hours.
NUT member Kevin Barry said: “I don’t want to go on strike. I don’t want to affect the children’s education, but I don’t feel we have any other choice. These proposed changes will dramatically affect the education of our students.”
Union leaders warn more strike action could hit the school next Tuesday and Thursday, if agreement is not reached with management and governors.
Jill McManus, division secretary and equal opportunities officer for South Tyneside NUT, said: “A total of 45 NUT members at the school came out on strike, which affected Years 7 and 8, and the parents of some 400 children were told to keep their children off school.
“We feel we gave the school plenty of notice, but they didn’t respond. I feel the school is now taking notice, after this action. There was a great deal of support for members on the picket line.”
The union was due to have a meeting with headteacher Frank O’Neill today but, if no agreement is reached, more strike action could take place.
Recent ballots among the school’s members of the NUT, the NAS/UWT and Unison saw 90 per cent vote in support of action.
The NUT claims the school was “slow” in responding to calls for a meeting with union leaders.
Ms McManus added: “We find it hard to understand why the school could not arrange a meeting and at least attempt to avoid disruption to the education of its students.
“We are disappointed we have to take this course of action, but we have been left with little choice.”
In a letter to parents, the NUT stated: “Teachers really don’t want to strike, but we are seriously concerned changes the school’s management are pushing through will be detrimental to the standard of education we are able to provide.
“Since the school became an academy, teachers have accepted an increase of two hours teaching per fortnight on our timetables, increased class sizes and an extended working day to accommodate sixth-form teaching, because we want to support the school.”
Terence Carney, chairman of governors at St Joseph’s, confirmed the strike affected about 400 pupils at the school.
But he questioned the NUT’s claim a meeting could not be arranged, adding: “The fact is the union dictated a date and time of the meeting, when it was inconvenient in the light of other commitments the headteacher already had.
“Whether we had that meeting or not, the strike would have taken place.”
Mr Carney called the strike an “inappropriate line of action” in a period of ongoing consultation, stressing only the NUT took action.
Asked if a meeting between the headteacher and the NUT could help avert further strikes, Mr Carney added: “I am always optimistic about human kind and am sure this can be resolved.”